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Safer Cookware Cheatsheet

By Kristie Turck •  Published 02/09/12 •  6 min read

Last updated on August 20th, 2022 at 12:30 am

As a follow-up to my Cast Iron Cookware and Care piece, I wanted to create a Safer Cookware Cheatsheet. Here you can learn about the risks of using certain cookware. As well as learn about safer, non-toxic cookware options.

How To Choose Safer Cookware?  

The first step is to avoid Teflon or other conventional non-stick coatings containing the synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), also known as Teflon.

Prior to 2013, Teflon was made from Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA),  a chemical used to bond the coating to the pan. Toxic fumes released from heated Teflon-coated pans (at medium to high temperatures) caused enough air pollution to kill a pet bird!  These fumes can also cause people to develop flu-like symptoms called “Teflon Flu.”

Since 2013 Teflon no longer uses PFOA  and currently uses a synthetic polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). While most will say polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is safe. There have not been many studies done to determine its safety. We wrote about a study linking non-stick cookware to thyroid disease a while back. All and all, we recommend refraining from using any non-stick coated pan with PTFE.

Another issue with PFOAs or PTFEs is that they are forever chemicals. Forever Chemicals take thousands of years to decompose and are currently found in 99% of Americans. That’s an alarming fact.

Are Green, Ceramic, and Eco-Friendly Pans Safe?

The green and eco pans we have researched say the information is proprietary and won’t disclose what the polymer they are using is.  It is still a synthetic coating, and although a better option than Teflon, I don’t feel like I can fully recommend it since I don’t understand exactly what they’re using.

Many companies explain their “safe” coating as “ceramic.”  You would still want to verify that the pan has no PFOAs or PTFEs and that they didn’t simply add ceramic particles to the coating.  If you find a “green” pan you are interested in, contact the manufacturer and ask questions. Then determine if you feel comfortable enough with the responses to make a purchase.

Is Enamel Coated Cast Iron Cookware Safe? Should We Worry About Lead?

Enamel-coated cast iron cookware is made by fusing powdered glass with the metal; it is heated and hardens, creating a smooth coating. It is essentially glass-coated metal on the interior cooking surface.

Although, I have read that manufacturers can add other oxides to the enamel to alter some of its properties. These oxides may or may not be toxic, depending on what they are.  So, if you are purchasing this type of cookware, ask the company if they had added any oxides to the enamel.

For example, the Lodge brand does not add any heavy metals to its enamel.  Sometimes vibrant red or yellow colored glazes used on the exterior of these pans can contain trace levels of lead. Check to see if the product has undergone any safety testing for lead.

I know that both Lodge and Le Crueset products undergo lead testing and are compliant with California Prop 65 levels for lead and cadmium.

What Are Safe Options For Cookware?

After spending considerable time choosing and preparing nutritious food for our families, it can be pretty frustrating to learn that the products we use to cook, bake, eat and store food may risk our families’ health.  Materials such as Teflon, BPA, PVC lead, aluminum, phthalates, and melamine are commonly found in everyday kitchenware products yet have been tied to disturbing health issues.  The good news is there are many safer alternatives as well as things you can avoid.

Cooking on the stovetop:  


Storing leftovers:

Is It Safe To Cook With Plastic Utensils?

Heat is one of the main factors that cause chemicals to leach from plastic. The concern is that you are using these plastic utensils like a plastic spatula in a hot pan.  While most people know to avoid BPA when it comes to food and plastics. BPA is not the only chemical of concern in leaching plastics.  A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that plastics (even BPA-free plastics) can release hormone-disrupting chemicals due to heat and wear and tear.  Also, hot acidic foods accelerate chemical leaching in plastics.  Additionally, actual plastic pieces can flake off utensils and end up in food.

Some Spatulas And Spoons Are Made With Polyurethane Plastic. Is This Safe? What’s Better?

Polyurethane is a tricky chemical. It has many different forms and varies in toxicity depending on the format.  I imagine polyurethane is added to make the plastic more durable and heat resistant. This would be better than a less stable plastic that would start to degrade with heat, but I can’t say for sure what its safety level would be.

Instead, err on the side of caution and use natural materials whenever possible, like wood, bamboo, or stainless steel utensils.

Another material that would be a safer alternative to plastic utensils is food-grade silicone.  Although man-made, it is based on natural materials (silicon from sand and oxygen molecules). Most manufacturers of silicone utensils have not added any toxic materials, but it’s always good to check.  Food-grade or medical-grade silicone is much more chemically stable than plastic and is relatively inert. In other words it does not leach chemicals the way plastics do.


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